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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic’s one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation took Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone by surprise.

“I felt — we felt — pretty strongly that he would not be suspended based on other instances, similar instances. But they saw it in a different light,” Malone said prior to the Nuggets’ game Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, who were missing their own center, DeAndre Ayton, with a sprained ankle.

One of those similar situations Malone surely had in mind was NBA superstar Stephen Curry’s avoidance of a suspension after leaving the bench in a strikingly similar manner to Jokic in Golden State’s final preseason game a few months ago.

On that night, the Lakers’ Lance Stephenson was fouled by Quinn Cook and threw a quick punch. Curry rose from his seat on the baseline and took several steps onto the court. Curry wasn’t suspended for the Warriors’ next game, which was their season opener against Oklahoma City when the Warriors received their championship rings.

Because of the suspension, Jokic wasn’t allowed in the Pepsi Center for Friday night’s game, and while several members of the organization privately fumed about the league’s decision, they publicly accepted the punishment.

“They made their decision and now our complete and full attention has to be finding ways to win without Nikola instead of worrying about well, why was he (suspended)?” Malone said. “We’re not going to change their decision. You respect it and you move on.”

The Serbian center stepped toward the court during Wednesday’s loss at Utah when Denver teammate Mason Plumlee and Derrick Favors of the Jazz engaged in an altercation near the basket. The league ruled that Jokic’s “proximity to the altercation and aggressive manner created the potential for further escalation of the situation.”

Jokic leads the Nuggets in points (19.8), rebounds (10.3) and assists (7.7) this season.

Plumlee received a $25,000 fine for the incident that occurred late in the first quarter and Favors was fined $15,000.

Malone said he reached out to the league after the suspension was handed down following the Nuggets’ noon shootaround and said the league “deemed it a very aggressive move on the baseline, and the rules are the rules.”

Although the suspension means Malone had to juggle his lineup and rotations, he said it “doesn’t change our focus at all because that should not change no matter who’s playing in uniform. Obviously, when you are down your best player and an All-Star, other guys have to step up.”


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